Do kids who freely bully classmates think their parents won’t do anything if they find out, or what?

Often, a bully is the fruit that doesn’t fall far from the tree, that is, at least one of their parents exhibits aggressive behavior that the child has “learned” is acceptable, and hence, pushes disempowered kids around at the schoolplace.

This isn’t the only reason someone may become a bully, but it sure explains why many do: Tyrannical parents produce children who are mean and delight in intimidating classmates.

So here’s the question: If in these cases, the parents are harsh and easily aroused to anger, wouldn’t this be incentive for the child to behave as perfectly as possible at school, to avoid their parent’s wrath?

Don’t kids who bully fear that if their parents find out, they’ll get walloped?

Kids have been known to push around their victims in close proximity to at least one of the former’s parents  —  apparently with zero fear of getting caught by the parent.

This isn’t about “lenient” parents who don’t believe in spanking.

“Exposure to child abuse and domestic violence, parental use of corporal punishment, poor parent-child communication, and high levels of family conflict are risk factors for bullying behavior,” explains Rashmi Shetgiri, MD, MSHS, medical director at Pediatric Primary Care Clinic in Los Angeles whose research interests include bullying and youth violence prevention.

She recalls a study that showed that fathers who were bullies in their youth were more likely to have children who were bullies.

Some youth bullies indeed come from homes in which the norm is characterized by aggressive or domineering behavior in the parents, which may manifest as physical or mental abuse, spousal abuse, striking the kids out of anger, and literally bullying them around. Such parents are negative role models, says Dr. Shetgiri.

“These children may internalize this as acceptable forms of interaction with others, and may believe bullying is, therefore, an acceptable way to interact with their peers,” she continues.

“Rather than fearing punishment for bullying from their parents, these children may believe their parents would condone bullying behavior, since this is how the parents themselves interact with others.”

And it’s very possible that in many cases, if the parent found out or even witnessed the bullying, they’d do nothing, perhaps believing that the victim brought it on and may even praise their child for being aggressive.

Yet at the same time, this parent may be far from lenient, physically or verbally lashing out at their bully-child if he or she doesn’t make a perfect bed; accidentally spills a beverage; forgets to turn off a light; puts on a little too much makeup, etc.

Dr. Shetgiri is particularly interested in prevention of violence among Latino youth, the implementation of primary-care-based bullying and violence prevention strategies, and health outcomes for children exposed to violence and abuse.